Marijuana Smokers Five Times More Likely To Develop Alcohol Dependence

By John Lavitt 03/01/16

The study analyzed nearly 28,000 adults who first used marijuana before the onset of an alcohol use disorder.

Marijuana Smokers Five Times More Likely To Develop Alcohol Dependence
Photo via Shutterstock/Joshua Resnick

According to a new study, if people use marijuana, they become five times more likely to abuse—and ultimately become dependent on—alcohol compared with people who never experiment with the drug. The study also examined what happens when marijuana use is added to pre-existing alcohol abuse. The data revealed that the addition of marijuana significantly raises the probability of alcohol use disorder persisting and eventually getting worse.

Based on the outcomes of the study—which was conducted jointly by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the City University of New York—the researchers found a need to improve marijuana awareness in regards to the treatment of alcohol use disorder.

"Our results suggest that cannabis use appears to be associated with an increased vulnerability to developing an alcohol use disorder, even among those without any history of this," said Renee Goodwin, PhD, associate professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health. "Marijuana use also appears to increase the likelihood that an existing alcohol use disorder will continue over time."

People who had used marijuana at the first assessment and again over the following three years (23%) were five times more likely to develop an alcohol use problem, compared with those who had not used marijuana (5%). At the same time, the problem drinkers who did not use cannabis were significantly more likely to be in recovery from alcohol use disorders three years later, when compared to the pot smokers.

Analyzing data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, the results of nearly 28,000 adults were examined. For the people who first used marijuana at a time when they had no lifetime history of alcohol use disorders, the results proved surprising in light of the popular belief that marijuana use does not fuel alcohol abuse. Here, the opposite seems to be the case.

"If future research confirms these findings, investigating whether preventing or delaying first use of marijuana might reduce the risk of developing alcohol use disorders among some segments of the population may be worthwhile," said Goodwin.

The study authors concluded that their findings on the relationship between cannabis and alcohol use can help inform treatment programs: “Community-based and clinical programs aimed at preventing or treating problematic alcohol use may benefit from integrating information about cannabis use in order to improve outcomes." 

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.